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The Octologue: an Introduction

by Patricia Gomes

Earlier this year, while doing research on Queen Catherine de Médicis of France and her practice of keeping dwarves as her personal attendants, an imagined, nagging excerpt of gothic dialogue lodged itself in my twisted grey matter and clung for life. There wasn't enough of it for a meaty poem or even the shortest of stories, but nag it did, and the Octologue was born.

The Octologue is a snippet of eavesdropped conversation, a bit of dialogue, monologue, any thought that is or can be spoken aloud. It must be a complete thought. It can answer a question; it can lead to more questions, leaving the reader begging to hear the answers. The Octologue is eight metered lines with each line traditionally capped. The pattern is: 3/5/3/3/5/3/3/3. Here is an example of the octologue as inspired by Catherine:

Whisper of the Old Queen

Can you reach the latch?
Do it then,
Bar the door.
The graveyard's chill calls
And I'm yet
To answer.

Thanks to the Internet, the octologue took flight. It made its way from Massachusetts to Bothell, Washington, where the John L. Platt Memorial Poetry Group used it as a monthly exercise after being introduced to the form by group member Ginger Wiegman-Cousens. Ms. Wiegman-Cousens, a Seattle-based poet, "… enjoys the challenge of the form, being forced to construct a complete thought in twenty-eight syllables," as she illustrates in her poem Transmogrifying:

Here in hell,
Your love keeps me cold . . .
Drink your tears,
As I change my name
To Demon -
Master of

The octologue crossed the United States border into Canada, where Saskatchewan poet Roberta Swetlow took the form in a new direction by employing familiar, modern-day conversation as in these two poems:


Where are they?
I can't find my keys!
I can't leave!
Did you try
Checking your pockets?
Think I'm dumb?
They're not - Oh!
Never mind.


I just saw
A huge white hound dog
In a car
Driver's seat!
Did it have a sign
'The driver
Of this car

Back in the States, New York poet Charlene Howard adopted the form as her own, having written some sixty plus octologues. She states, "… the octologue forces me to say exactly what I want prohibiting me from becoming too wordy; I must get straight to the point, prohibiting room for clutter and fluff. It is not a complex form and is conducive to any genre, though I prefer to use the form for works of a darker bent . . . " as she shows us here:

I'm Cold

It's cold here;
I'm afraid, alone,
So dark, dank . . .
Hard to breath.
Am I breathing? No!
Oh my God!
Am I dead?
Yes, you are.


Woe is me!
Cried the gatekeeper.
I've kept a
Watchful eye
For all those who pass.
Eons slip,
Yet alone
I stand guard.


Gloom master -
Bottomless pit of
Dark stories.
Your nightmares
Come to life, Edgar.
Twisted fears,
Bound by pen
For all time.

Horror writer Joseph Armstead, author of The Screaming Season, recently penned the following octologue, Waltzing at Midnight:

In darkness
do we show our souls,
as madmen,
as prophets,
happy at last to
know freedom,
and just be
beasts and fools?

In shadows
do we dance in flames,
knowing truth,
knowing fear,
removing the masks,
and feeling,
just feeling,

Dressed in gloom,
we at last become
those dark dreams,
cold as night,
magical and large
as our tiny
minds will let
us become.

In darkness,
In shadow, in gloom,
out of sight,
draped in night,
filled with hurt and rage,
and dancing
like wounded
blind puppets.

Armstead calls the form: " . . . a unique writing experience, a challenge, requiring the writer to abandon prescribed expectations of form and meter and to actually free themselves to create in an arrythmical, but logically-progressive flow. Once begun, the next set of thoughts and images begin to build one upon the other in a very natural and organic way."

You will note that Mr. Armstead "corrupted" the form to best suit his writing. I, too, corrupted the form in the following poem, Anne Boleyn Pens a Death Note based on the Queen's last documented words:

Poor Henry,
I shall die come morn,
You remain
Steadfast, sure.
Will you contemplate,
Your choices,
I wonder.

Your council
Spoke of witchery
They were, of
Boleyn's sixth finger,
Magic where
There was none.

My neck is
Suitably slender;
It shall not
the blade, freeing you
To rejoice,
To marry . . .
To reflect.

Poetry being an interpretive art, corruption is welcome; in fact, it is heartily encouraged!

Note: All poems used are copyrighted by their authors and are used with their permission.

Horror author and poet Patricia Gomes, creator of the Octologue, is a free-lance writer wearing out her keyboard on the coast of Massachusetts.

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